This week I kept reading blog posts about "picking your brain" mentalities - good or bad for your business/brand/network?
Some posts were reactions to blog posts - as happens so often in the blogosphere, and this post is in fact a reaction too - and others took a different spin/angle to the question.
And this morning in a trade magazine (CFJ) I read the same sentiment when one of the top technical/hands-on advisers of the wooden flooring trade used his monthly column to announce he has set up a new system you can "subscribe" to for an annual (small) fee to get his advice by phone or in writing (where before he'd given his advice for free).
Is there profit in free?
All in all, reading the tweet, posts and magazine column I can fully understand what they are doing: in this time and age of "FREE to all" those who make their living out of advising others (businesses, traders, writers etc) are starting to feel the profit pressure.
For those asking to pick their brains there seems to be no line (not even a thin one) between reading the free blog posts/articles filled with advice, tips and hints for all who want to read it/learn from it and the direct (personal) request for advice. "You're constantly giving out advice left, right and center so why wouldn't I pick up the phone, write that email and ask a direct question?"
And there's the catch. Writing blog posts, articles about your experiences, knowledge and expertise is - in general - meant as showcase of your experience, knowledge and expertise. Like a port-folio, an (very extended and ongoing) introduction. A modern way of attracting prospects, clients, financiers etc etc (again, in general).
Free content is not the same as free case specific advice.
What about us? Is there profit in free?
Funnily enough, our own business best performing webforms or source of clients is exactly that: giving out case specific advice for free.
Daily I answer questions not just be email but also over the phone. Free, helping out in very specific cases with tips, hints and product recommendations.
In fact we thrive and grow on having our "brains picked", day in day out, week in week out. It takes up our time (my time especially) and we love it, our bank balance loves it too. So, where's the difference?
Costs versus profit
Reading those various posts and articles this week on the same subject: "free as long as it for general purpsose, if you want case specific advice/help I'll charge my normal rate", does show where IMHO the difference is:
It depends what you sell.
We don't supply wooden floors for free, we don't install wooden floors for free and since recently we also don't restore floors for free (not that we ever done that for free, we just recently added a new "department" to our business). Our profit comes from those three services: supply, install and restore. Our profit does not come from giving case specific advice (althoug based on some of those cases we did publish our first Q&A on Wooden Flooring, which became profitable within 1 month).
And as long as this case specific free advice brings in more profit (from small to large orders based on the case specific advice given) than it costs us (time to answer the phone and writing the emails even for those who don't turn into clients) we will continue our free service. And if ever need be we would even employ a second "adviser".
Free case specific advice on our products and methods (installation, restoration and how to guides) sells our products and methods.
That's a big difference in giving free case specific advice to a specific business on how to implement a social media strategy or as Gini rightfully states:
"I think Jason’s blog post is less about incentive-based consulting and more about something that is rampant in the industries where people sell their brains for a living. Time is how we make our money. We don’t make widgets. We don’t sell products. We don’t manufacture anything. We don’t process anything. Our brains are our products and, Jason is right, every time someone asks us for free help, they’re taking us away from clients or opportunities to make us money."
What do you sell? Can what you do/make help you become more profitable by giving case specific advice for free or does it eat into your profits? Can you let me know in the comment box?